Hats Off to the Class of 2019!

Columbia’s newest alumni are welcomed with speeches, interviews and more.

Columbia University students in their caps and gowns

The sun shone as more than 1,200 students joined the ranks of alumni at Class Day 2019. The ceremony, which took place on May 21, opened with the 16th annual Alumni Parade of Classes and featured remarks from Dean James J. Valentini and keynote speaker Brandon Victor Dixon ’03. Dixon, an award-winning actor and producer, is known for star turns in Hamilton on Broadway and the nationally televised live performances of Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Dixon opened with a walk down memory lane (“Is there still a Taco Bell in Wien?”) before asking the graduates to raise a hand if they thought the world they were stepping into is heading in the right direction. Seeing the consensus was “no,” Dixon nodded. “I set that up,” he said. “Because I want to challenge the notion that things are getting worse.

“We receive much of our information and energy from so few sources,” he continued. “The little boxes we stare into constantly funnel concentrated information to us, most of which is cultivated bits of fear, noise, anger and distraction — so much so that we begin to think that is all there is. We begin to believe that that is who we are. We lose hope, we shrink, we stop reaching for one another. We separate to protect what we already have instead of connecting to create what we all need and deserve. But we make a mistake when we accept the story that we are told, when we accept that as the truest reflection of ourselves and our neighbors.”

“I urge you to instill every decision with ‘what am I trying to create, where do I want to go, who do I want to become, who can I enrich?’”
— Class Day speaker Brandon Victor Dixon ’03

Describing his travels and the diverse people he’s met, Dixon offered a counternarrative. “I believe our circumstances are forcing us to recognize on a visceral level how connected we all are and must be, not just for our survival as a race of living beings but for the evolution of our individual and collective consciousness as a whole. … The darkness is not what you fear. The darkness is the inability to see light in one another. In whatever you are about to engage in on this next step in your life, I encourage you to think expansively — more expansively than ‘where do I want to work, how much do I want to make or what do I want to do?’ I urge you instead to instill every decision with ‘what am I trying to create, where do I want to go, who do I want to become and who around me can I enrich with those efforts?’”

Dixon emphasized that he believes the Class of 2019 is graduating at an auspicious time: “Things are changing and change is hard — it’s challenging because it requires a breaking of things, and that can look chaotic; it can feel stressful. But you must break what is known in order to form something new. And it is up to you to use the tools you’ve been given here to visualize the world in which you choose to live and the role you choose to play in it. Because I assure you, your vision does indeed have power. Your vision is possible.”

The University-wide Commencement took place the next day, with President Lee C. Bollinger delivering his annual address. Armond Adams ’06, Leslie Gittess Brodsky ’88 and Tracy V. Maitland ’82 were among the 10 recipients of Alumni Medals for distinguished service to the University of 10 years or more.

CCT Print Extras

See the list of Academic Awards and Prizes winners.